The question of whether to close Fort Hunt High School as a solution to problems of declining enrollment in the Mount Vernon area drew about 800 persons last night to a public hearing at the school's auditorium.
About 50 parents and students from Fort Hunt High tried to persuade Superintendent William J. Burkholder to preserve the school.
But several dozen parents and students from neighboring schools argued that closing Fort Hunt as a high school was the only solution that will bring long-term stability to schools in the eastern part of the Mount Vernon District, which have been losing enrollment for almost a decade.
A smaller group of citizens urged the superintendent to keep all high schools in the area open, saying the prospect of a high school closing had caused bitter divisions in the district.
The hearing, which was continuing early today, was the last of two. Burkholder is expected to make a recommendation to the School Board next month.
A citizen task force recommended last month that Fort Hunt be closed and converted to an intermediate school. Under the plan, the new Fort Hunt Intermediate would send its students to nearby Groveton High, and both Bryant Intermediate and Stephen Foster Intermediate would be closed.
Those who favored closing Fort Hunt said that no boundary changes in the area could compensate for the shrinking school population of the three high schools in the area, Mount Vernon, Groveton and Fort Hunt. Boundary adjustments, they said, would simply prolong the uncertain future of the three.
Proponents of the task force's recommendation also said that of the three neighboring high schools, Fort Hunt had the smallest capacity and was expected to have the smallest enrollment. In its easternmost location, they said, the high school is also the farthest removed from the district's growth spots.
Fort Hunt parents and students, however, described in personal terms their affection for the school, and the crucial role they believe it has played as the anchor for their community.
"It's the kind of spirit that motivates kids to reach for their highest levels of achievement, supported by a community that expects nothing less of them," said Linda Hayes. "It's the kind of spirit that has so much support that the motto for any Fort Hunt activity is 'Come early or car pool, otherwise you won't find a parking place.' "
Fort Hunt parents praised the school's high athletic and academic achievements, saying small schools don't necessarily offer poor education.
Fort Hunt supporters called the task force's projections unfounded and said the school would benefit from a population boom as new residents move into the area.
Several speakers including Gerald Hyland, the Democrat who was defeated last week in his bid for the Mount Vernon seat on the Board of Supervisors, called for a solution that would preserve all three high schools in the area. Mount Vernon, he said, is now "three emotionally charged camps with neighbor pitted against neighbor, churchgoer against churchgoer."
"For God's sake, for our kids' sake and for our own sake," Hyland said, "let's put our hands together, put the emotionalism aside and work together."